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Fresh Thinking on IT Operations for 100,000 Industry Executives

The problem with us old operations guys is that we have seen pretty much everything that is supposed to be new before, sometimes a generation or more ago. Makes us a bit cynical about innovation – so when I heard about some oldie technology doing something really innovative I was intrigued.

In the UK we used to have British Rail that ran all the trains and stations (and served up wonderful cooked breakfasts in first class). Despite the fact that it was a nationalized company I remember it being quite good (or am I just being romantic)? The trains mainly ran on time and there were those brilliant breakfasts served by waiters in white coats.  Of course all of this ran on a mainframe because that is how computing was done then.

Even today, the private train companies and the track operators have a single centralized system – and most of it STILL runs on the mainframe. COBOL, CICS and Z/OS. British Rail sold their IT department to SEMA (now part of Atos Origin) and there the timetable, ticketing and scheduling systems run to this day.

I tell you all this because a while ago I downloaded a really neat application to my iPhone from National Rail Enquiries, the private track and station operator. It is really good, functional, fast and accurate and above all useful. One bit that is absolutely brilliant is a graphical piece that shows the progress of the train approaching your station, that is where it is on the incoming journey – the mobile train tracking application. Today I learned how that is all done.

Much of the new modern stuff that National Rail and the other operators have been pushing out is hosted on Suze Linux, not just ordinary Linux though, zLinux on a pair of IFLs plugged into a Z10 mainframe. A bit of Oracle 10g, some Websphere and Java all networked up with the mainframes HiperSockets is able to extract the timetable and progress information from the mainframe based data and applications and deliver it to the iPhone.

It’s brilliant.